[[abstract]]This study provides empirical data of the development of Mandarin aspiration contrast from a longitudinal and a cross-sectional perspective. Voice onset time (VOT) is employed to measure the progress of aspiration contrast which is characteristic of labial, dental, and velar stop consonants. The longitudinal study recorded two children’s speech production at approximately every two weeks, beginning when they were about 1;8 and 1;6 respectively. Results showed that one of the subjects has acquired aspiration contrast between homorganic labial and dental stops while the other child has not when the study ended. It was also found that overall both of the two subjects exhibited similar pattern of VOT variation in the process of the development though great individual differences often existed between the two children. They seemed to produce all of the stops with shorter VOT values in the beginning of the study. Longer VOT values appeared to develop at a later time. It was speculated that the sequential order of acquisition and development of aspiration contrast can be resulted from different degrees of the coordination between the laryngeal gesture and the point of articulation. On the other hand the cross-sectional study examined the development of the aspiration contrast from two- to six-year-old children. Each group of children has acquired aspiration contrast but mean VOTs were found to be significantly different in all of the three aspirated stops and the unaspirated velar stop. The mean VOTs produced by three-year-olds were found to be shorter than most of the other groups, suggesting over-performance on the control of aspiration feature. The mean VOTs produced by the oldest two groups better resembled those in the adult group. It was assumed that the distinctions of VOT values among child groups could be attributed to children’s persistent attempts to adapt their VOT values to approaching the adult norm. The continuous VOT variations across the five groups of children also added evidence to gradient change in language production, especially in the aspect of aspiration contrast. In addition with the detailed documentation and observation of VOT values from a wide range of age this study also provided some reference for speech therapy.
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